Part One: BD grassroots athlete Hayden Kennedy reports on his 2011/2012 season of climbing in Argentine Patagonia
Black Diamond grassroots athlete Hayden Kennedy has, at 22 years young, established himself as one of North America’s top all-around climbing talents. From 5.14 sport climbs to speed ascents on El Cap to expeditions to Pakistan and Patagonia, Hayden has already lived a full climbing life. This past December and January, Hayden teamed up with fellow young gun Jason Kruk for a season of climbing in Argentine Patagonia, home to the iconic Torre and Fitz Roy massifs.
The duo had a stunningly successful trip, managing fast ascents of Cerro Standhardt, Torre Egger, Cerro Torre and more. Below is Part One of Hayden’s report and photos about his climbs in Patagonia this season. Part Two will be in the Journal next week.
[Jason Kruk following an amazing pitch on Torre Egger's Huber-Schnarf with great views to the ice cap.]
“If I talk about Cerro Torre and her sisters, it is as though I were talking about women. In my eyes they are the most beautiful. If we like a girl and in our own way of thinking she is the most beautiful girl in the world, and the more we look at her, the more we like her, why court anyone else?” – Ermanno Salvaterra
The Torres rise above the glacier like kings and queens, and as climbers we are the pawns in this large game of chess. I think of alpine climbing like playing a game of chess—no matter how much you think about one move there is always the chance that you will get sideswiped without even knowing it. But sometimes the pawns get lucky and for just one game the kings and the queens let their guard down.
Jason Kruk of Squamish, BC, and I met in El Chalten on December 9, 2011, for a two-month climbing trip. The first time I ever climbed with Jason was in Patagonia on the classic Supercanaleta on Fitz Roy, and ever since that route we have formed a very good partnership. Jason is smart and a very skilled all-around climber and I learn something new every time we climb together. A good partnership is the key to alpine climbing because once you leave the tent it’s all or nothing. The partnership is a bond that words can’t describe.
This was my third trip to Argentine Patagonia and Jason’s fourth. Both of us had been dealt some pretty rough cards in Patagonia, yet had learned that anything is possible. On my first trip to Patagonia in 2009/2010 there wasn’t a climbable day for six weeks. As I packed my bags for 2011/2012 I had low expectations and knew that we would most likely only get a few days in the mountains. Sometimes it’s hard to come to terms with the fact that the weather is just that bad in Patagonia, but it’s a gamble that I have always been willing to risk.
Within a week of arriving in El Chalten a promising weather window was already on its way and before we knew it Jason and I were hiking loads into the Torre Valley. We had never summited any of the Torres and we wanted to put all of our energy into climbing these spectacular spires. [Jason on the second pitch of the Exocet, just before we got super wet]
We decided to start off with Cerro Standhardt’s Exocet Chimney (500m 6a WI5 MI3), a classic ice/mixed route that climbs a very striking ice chimney on the East Face of Standhardt. Jason and I arrived at the Standhardt Col at first light and climbed the initial mixed pitches to gain the snow ramps that run below the east face. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and even though it was only 7 am it was already getting very warm. Jason started up the first pitch of the chimney and reached a small snow ledge were he belayed. The chimney was now fully in the sun but it seemed fine, so Jason started the second pitch. About half way up, the entire chimney started gushing with water. Jason stopped and I followed half the pitch before we were both so wet and cold that we couldn’t function. We descended to the small snow ledge that lent us warmth and cover from the super-soaker chimney. We used our slings and rope to create a clothesline to dry all of our gear and we laughed at what had just happened. The thought of bailing in such perfect weather seemed like slapping God in the face, so we decided to wait until the chimney went into the shade in hopes that it would stop running with water. We got to know that ledge pretty good, sitting there for close to six hours.
As soon as the chimney was in the shade we couldn’t wait any longer and blasted. The climbing in the chimney itself is truly spectacular ice and mixed climbing but although it was in the shade we still got wet again! We were on the summit at 7 pm and stoked to the moon to have reached one of the summits of the Torres.
[Jason leading high-quality mix climbing on Cerro Standhadrt]
There was still a day and half of good weather in the forecast and neither of us had climbed the classic rock route Chiaro di Luna on Aguja Saint-Exupery (750m 6c), so we racked up and the next morning we were off. The rock quality on Chiaro di Luna is perfect and the climbing is as splitter as any route that I have done in Yosemite. [Unreal granite climbing on Chiaro de Luna]
The simplistic act of climbing is truly special and its even more special for me in the mountains. We covered the entire 750 meters in about 4 hours and yelled into the wind at the summit. On the hike down we ran into Colin Haley and we all witnessed one of the biggest rock falls we have ever seen off of the right side of El Mocho—a sobering moment that reminded all of us that these mountains are alive.
Back in the comfort of town we rested, we ate, we drank beer, we bouldered, and we always keep an eye out for the weather. Climbing in Patagonia has changed a lot over the last 40 years and now all the comforts of town make life a little easier. I remember reading all of the old stories from Jim Donini, Ermanno Salvaterra, Jay Smith, Silvo Karo, Carlos Comesana and many more about the wooden huts at Camp Bridwell and of the epic stories of bailing due to bad weather. Sometimes I wish Patagonia were still like those days.
The resting period only lasted for a few weeks before the weather started to look good again. This time Jason and I wanted to climb Torre Egger but we knew from climbing on Standhardt that really warm temps weren’t the best idea. The climbing on the Torres is condition-dependent: since the Torres are closer to the ice cap the wind and precipitation affects the rock much more than on the Fitz Roy side. The rime ice that forms the ice-cream-cone-like mushrooms on the tops of the Torres often seeps with warm weather, making the rock very wet, and if there is to much rime on the rock itself the cracks are choked with ice and the climbing much more difficult. We hiked in a few days early in hopes of finding colder days and better conditions on Torre Egger.
On December 23rd we left our tent at 1:00 pm and hiked to the Standhardt Col, arriving on a windless, clear night. The Torres present themselves like giants in the moonlight and Jason and I were so stoked to get the chance to climb on Torre Egger! The unknowns that lay in front of us made the approach go fast as our minds twisted and turned. [Jason starting up Spigolo dei Bimbi on Punta Herron durning our link up of Punta Herron and Torre Egger.]
We climbed the Standhardt ramps all the way across to below the South Face of Standhadrt and rapped towards the base of Punta Herron. The idea was to climb up and over Punta Herron via the Spigolo dei Bimbi (350m 6b MI5) and then rap into the Col de Lux and climb Torre Egger via the Huber-Schnarf (200m 6b+ MI3). Jason led the first few ice/mixed pitches to the base of the rock climbing. As I was following I took a few moments to look around and enjoy the views, trying not get consumed by the scale of the spires. The rock climbing follows face features and small cracks, very thought-provoking climbing with small but good gear spaced far apart. The original line on Punta Herron was very icy so we climb more to the left where the sun had dried the cracks. The climbing was thin. On the first pitch I placed a knifeblade in a seam and as I was climbing past it my foot blew and I took a 30-foot fall. This was my first lead fall in the mountains but I tried not to let that conflict with the rest of the climb. I continued leading for seven more pitches before Jason took over and led the final mushroom. Due to the warm and dry summer the ice mushrooms were more or less just blue ice with very little rime/frost. This made the mushroom pitches much easier but nevertheless still unbelievably wild. [The first pitch on Torre Egger with Punta Herron and Cerro Standhardt in the background]
On the summit of Punta Herron we had great views of the North Face of Torre Egger as well as the awe-inspiring North Face of Cerro Torre. As we rappelled into the Col de Lux, the sky started to fill with clouds. The wind picked up and the ice from the summit mushrooms bounced down the rocky face and sometimes bombarded us. It can be very unnerving to have baseball-sized ice chunks flying by your head. I led four amazing 60-meter pitches to the base of the steep last ice pitch of Torre Egger. We switch from rock shoes to boots and crampons. All the while the sky is filling with darker and darker clouds. Jason leads the final pitch of Grade 5 ice with only three screws—good thing he’s a Canadian!
[Jason leads the steep final ice pitch on Torre Egger]
At the summit we are overwhelmed with joy and psyche for such a wonderful climb but shortly thereafter the daunting task of 1000 meters of rappelling hits us. Jason leads the rappels all through the night and we reach the glacier at 3:00 am and stumble back to our tent. The experience of climbing Punta Herron and Torre Egger was unique and very special for both Jason and I; we both free climbed the entire route and did it on a 28-hour roundtrip push. It was the best Christmas present that we could have asked for! But there were still two days of good weather in the forecast and we didn’t want to stop there…